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Inter-American Court of Human Rights Orders El Salvador Government to Allow Pregnant Woman with Critical Complications Access to Life-saving Health Care

(PRESS RELEASE) Just hours after the Salvadoran Supreme Court denied a potentially life-saving abortion for a woman with serious complications in her pregnancy, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has now ordered El Salvador officials to allow her medical team to take all necessary steps to preserve her life, personal integrity, and health.
 
“Beatriz,” a 22-year-old Salvadoran woman who is five months pregnant and suffering from complications related to lupus and kidney disease, is currently carrying a non-viable anencephalic fetus (without a brain) and recently requested authorization for medical personnel to perform an abortion without criminal prosecution because the pregnancy threatens her health and life.
 
With today’s binding decision from the region’s highest human rights court, Beatriz’s physicians will soon be able to take all necessary steps to treat her.
 
Said Lilian Sepúlveda, director of the global legal program at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
 
“The Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling has finally brought some measure of justice to Beatriz and underlined what human rights advocates have been saying throughout this case: Denying women necessary medical care is a violation of their fundamental human rights.
 
“It is deplorable that Beatriz had to suffer this long while her government utterly failed to protect her health, her life, and her rights.”
 
In a recent decision striking down Costa Rica’s long-standing ban on in-vitro fertilization—which had barred countless individuals from building their families for almost 12 years—the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that obstructing access to reproductive health services violated women’s rights to be free from discrimination.
 
El Salvador’s ban on abortion is one of the most extreme in the world—prohibiting the procedure even when necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life and imposing harsh criminal penalties on both women and physicians. Under current Salvadoran law, anyone who performs an abortion with the woman’s consent, or a woman who self-induces or consents to someone else inducing her abortion, can be imprisoned for up to eight years, though in reality most women end up being prosecuted and sentenced for aggravated homicide, which is punishable up to 30 years in prison.
 
The Center for Reproductive Rights has worked for more than 12 years to expose the consequences that the blanket abortion ban in El Salvador has on the lives of women. In March 2012, the Center and la Colectiva de Mujeres por el Desarrollo Local of El Salvador filed a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of “Manuela,” a mother of two who was sentenced to 30 years in prison after having obstetric complications. Manuela, who suffered from advanced Hodgkin’s lymphoma and did not receive appropriate medical treatment for the disease, died less than a year after being sent to the Ilopango Women’s Prison.